Modern greasers: envy, anger and loneliness in the time of the coronavirus

Modern greasers: envy, anger and loneliness in the time of the coronavirus

The spread of an epidemic such as that of coronavirus has caught the population by surprise, with important consequences on contemporary society and the development of feelings of anger, envy and loneliness.


Advertising message For millennia, humanity has been completely powerless in the face of infectious diseases. Plague, cholera, yellow fever, malaria and tuberculosis have claimed millions of victims over the centuries.

After the Second World War, public health experienced an unprecedented golden age. With the development of antibiotics, the lethality of most bacterial diseases has been drastically reduced. Vaccines have almost completely neutralized the threats of viral diseases. Antiviral drugs have shown that they can control the AIDS spectrum.

For a moment humanity has glimpsed the possibility of being able to completely solve the problem of infectious diseases as a significant cause of mortality in immunocompetent human populations. However, the improvement in health and life expectancy did not seem to heal hypochondriac anxieties. Indeed, in recent years the terror of disease and death has reached a social relevance unknown to our ancestors. The treatment of trivial (such as exanthematous diseases of childhood) or very rare diseases has become the subject of fierce debates. Four cases of meningitis just a few months ago triggered a real collective hysteria with queues at the vaccination offices.

Our community has pursued the dream of guaranteed longevity with exasperated determination. The belief that death is an event that affects only the third age has become established. Today the media routinely present every death as an expression of an imprudence, a fault, a disservice to be attributed now to doctors, now to administrators, now to some backward and obscurantist social groups.

Our era believed to put death on the door. But it’s back. Globalization takes us back a century from Wuhan. Humanity once again experiences its impotence in the face of a pathogen. The dead are counted in the thousands. Vaccination is still a long way off. No prophylaxis measure can guarantee health, no therapeutic treatment guarantees salvation. And impotence turns into anger.

In this age of quarantine, human contacts are few. We must turn to virtual channels to realize the social climate. And here, in the media, anger goes crazy. Desperation is perceived but above all the search for a culprit. Projective mechanisms are well known to those who deal with groups, communities and institutions. Reading Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi, we learned that the hunt for the greaser is a practice appreciated by the terrified masses and widely promoted by authoritarian governments.

Advertising message The media pillory points the finger in specific directions. Demonstrate a peculiar intuition in selecting the enemies of the people. I would like to draw your attention to this. While many more or less essential industrial activities continue, while food needs move and concentrate millions of people every day, social media, the press and politics have very specific allergies. In the front row the runners, who serenely move in solitude more or less complete in the empty spaces. Then the children, locked up in the house for weeks and evidently suffering. Couples, forced to meet clandestinely near supermarkets or embraced on the seat of a motorcycle, do not find greater understanding.

Perhaps the epidemiological impact of these categories of citizens is particularly dangerous for the ongoing epidemic? We leave this question to the experts and instead try to understand the information that these idiosyncrasies can offer us with respect to the conscious and unconscious forces that influence the functioning of the groups.

We must therefore ask ourselves first of all what unioneers, the favorite targets of real and virtual media, have in common. Young sportsmen, couples, parents with children all refer to an enjoyment experience. They seek and perhaps have found happiness.

Our era has now almost completely buried any manifestation of the sacred. The current quarantine is only the latest disaster that perhaps ditches pastoral communities that are now collapsing. Even without coronavirus, Lent remains an almost empty name to indicate the weeks preceding Easter.

For centuries, Europeans shared the pain of life by waiting in community for fasting the Saving Cross of Christ. Today it is the virus that brings pain, and as in Europe Ancien RĂ©gime is the authority of the state to close theaters, impose curfews and fasts. Runners, lovers and children don’t know or don’t want to conform. They continue to create human happiness: the body, life, air and sun.

Melanie Klein and her students have taught us that envy represents an extraordinary motivational force on an individual and social level. Sigmund Freud has discovered that nothing generates a more intense jealousy than a man and a woman united by love and capable of generating a descent.

The coronavirus epidemic acts like a litmus test. It reveals all the despair, anger and envy that pervades in contemporary society. The dissolution of shared symbols, the disintegration of forms of political, union, religious aggregation, the constant retreat of humanistic culture have left us alone. As households shrink and the celibate paradigm is rampant, social life is increasingly being replaced by virtual contacts. We stand alone in front of the computer. With nobody we can share anger, pain and the now daily experience of mourning. And this social collapse, unfortunately, will remain with us even when the virus is only a sad memory.